Australia v British & Irish Lions, Sydney, July 6
George Smith to start against Lions
July 4, 2013
George Smith has been rewarded for his form with the Brumbies © Getty Images
Smith last played for the Wallabies in the 33-12 win over Wales at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff at the end of the 2009 Spring Tour, after which he moved to France and Japan to play out his career. But he remains among the world's elite backrowers, as he has shown since returning from Japan, and Australia coach Robbie Deans said the player's impact, most notably at the breakdown, had been a key influence in the Brumbies impressive Super Rugby campaign.
"He's class, isn't he?" Deans said of Smith. "To have achieved what George has throughout his career, and return to play at the highest level, after such a long break, is a testament to the quality of the man, both as a person, and as a player."
Smith played three Tests against the Lions in 2001, and his fourth Test against the tourists will see him equal a record held by seven players for the most Test appearances by an Australian against the Lions. He becomes the fourth Wallabies player - alongside Tony Miller, John Thornett and Peter Johnson - to have completed the feat across two separate tours, with his predecessors all having featured against the Lions on the 1959 and 1967 tours. His selection for the series decider in Sydney sees Michael Hooper demoted to the bench after being outplayed by Lions captain Sam Warburton at the breakdown in the second Test in Melbourne, while Liam Gill drops out of the squad altogether.
"The decision to go with George in no way reflects any dissatisfaction with the way either Michael or Liam have played," Deans said. "But it has been a tough series - the first two games have been rugged, especially at the breakdown - and we feel that the combination of experience and fresh legs that George brings is the right way to go for this week. His expertise in the contact zone, where timing, judgement and physicality is everything, is going to be critical. Being able to call on George allows us to lighten the load on Michael while retaining the ability to inject him into what is sure to be a fast-paced and highly physical contest."
Smith is the only change to starting XV but expectations of another demanding forward exchange have been reflected in the make-up of the bench, which reverts to a six-forward, two-back split. Western Force backrower Ben McCalman is selected on the bench to appear in his first Test since Australia beat Wales in Cardiff at the end of 2011. Like James Horwill and James O'Connor, who each returned to Test action in the opening game of this series, McCalman missed all of last year's international calendar due to injury. Rob Horne makes way for McCalman, with Nick Phipps and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg providing the run-on backs options.
Deans said the utility value within the starting backline provided adequate positional cover for all but the most "extreme" of circumstance. Looking ahead to the game, the Wallabies coach said the series decider in front of a capacity crowd, in excess of 80,000 fans, at ANZ Stadium provided an "appropriate end" to a contest that had lived up to its billing. "The fact that this will be the third sell-out crowd, in what is such a competitive Australian sporting market, says it all," Deans said.
Australia: Kurtley Beale; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Tomane; James O'Connor, Will Genia; Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Ben Mowen; James Horwill, Kane Douglas; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Jesse Mogg.
Greg Growden previews the series-deciding Test
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand